Here are our picks for the 10 best movies of 2015:
10. The End Of the Tour
A film about two authors driving around the midwest on a book tour could have been a exercise in pseudo-intellectual masturbation, even when one of them is legendary author David Foster Wallace (Jason Segel). Instead, Donald Margulies’ script and a pair of career-best performances from Segel and Jesse Eisenberg tease out the humanity crackling beneath their surface-level egos. Rolling Stone writer David Lipsky (Eisenberg) attempts to profile Wallace for an issue of the magazine while barely masking his professional jealousy of his subject’s talent, while Wallace resents Lipsky’s ability to easily connect with others. This push-and-pull is a greater wellspring of narrative tension than some action films, even when it’s just two people driving through the countryside.
9. The Diary Of a Teenage Girl
“This is for all the girls, when they have grown,” says Minnie Goetze, the protagonist and designated teenage girl of The Diary of a Teenage Girl. This is a film about a girl growing up, but it is no simple coming-of-age story. Through imaginative animation and achingly relatable moments of teenage adventures, the film explores the oft-neglected topic of sexuality in teenage girls. It’s about a girl discovering and owning her sexuality, which is so often denied to women of all ages. At times hilarious and overall heart wrenching, this film is peppered with poignant and inventive surprises.
The 2015 documentary surrounding Winehouse's troubled personal life carefully and respectfully sheds light on the stars’ dark rise to fame. It’s not just drugs and disorders, but instead an intense pressure to perform, and lack of ability to reach out to others for help. It’s incredibly well done, and by focusing primarily on her strengths, and not revolving solely around her very public downfall, Amy is a true masterpiece that shows Winehouse as a personable, relatable, and truly down to-earth individual. “I’m not a girl trying to be a star; I’m just a girl that sings,” she says—a sad juxtaposition to the emotional journey she never intended to embark on.
7. It Follows
Sex and death have never been closer in It Follows, by far the best horror film in recent memory. Tracking a group of teens who fall under the wrath of a mysterious, constantly pursuing entity transmitted through sex, the film evokes true terror on both an existential and visceral level. While it may seem like a blatant movie-of-the-week STD metaphor, it wisely shies away from moralizing of any kind, instead using the supernatural as an opportunity to examine the things one loses forever by growing up. Shot on location amid the crumbling facade of suburban Detroit, it provides some of the year’s best filmmaking and cinematography.
6. Going Clear
Since the Church of Scientology is notoriously litigious, this documentary exposing their indoctrination process and cult-like rituals almost never happened. Relying only on information that could be validated by the film’s stringent legal team, Director Alex Gibney methodically unpacks the Church’s history from its birth as the get-rich-quick scheme of a speed-addicted science fiction writer to the litany of abuse allegations and mysterious disappearances that plague it today. Interviews with former members carry a huge amount of emotional weight, and give straightforward explanations of why any rational person could get tied up in such an organization. The Church responded with full-page newspaper ads denouncing the film, ironically contributing to its success.
5. The Martian
In a world where blockbusters tend to gloss over any scientific inaccuracies in the name of telling a straightforward story, The Martian stands out as a testament to cinema’s ability to balance science with genuine human catharsis and exciting narrative. Based on Andy Weir’s bestselling novel, the film follows astronaut botanist, Mark Watney in the days after he gets inadvertently stranded on Mars and has to figure out how to get home. The film eschews tradition and instead focuses on the fascinating procedural elements of staying alive on a desolate wasteland where the nearest human is millions of kilometers away.
4. Ex Machina
Ex Machina is a sci-fi movie that feels decidedly real. Office drone Caleb Smith (Domnhall Gleeson) wins a contest to spend a week with reclusive tech billionaire Nathan Bateman (Oscar Isaac). What happens next makes for a brilliant psychological thriller. Instead of opting for the clichéd 'evil robot' trope, Ex Machina explores the ethical implications of artificial intelligence. Its cast is aces across the board, especially Isaac, who is quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s best actors. Gleeson and Alicia Vikander (who plays Batemen’s AI, “Ava”) are no slouches either: The movie boasts the best man-machine chemistry since Her.
3. Montage of Heck
The music industry pre-Grunge was a spotlight contested by a few staple genres. Nirvana, with Kurt Cobain as their public image, was the sparkplug that ignited the vast nebula of sub genres we come to associate with the music industry today. With access to Cobain’s personal and familial archives, Brett Morgan’s Montage of Heck provides the first family backed documentary on the 90’s cultural icon. Bound with stunning remixes of Nirvana classics, animations of Cobain’s diary, and never before seen home footage, Montage of Heck will never let you hear Nirvana’s lyrics in quite the same way again.
2. Inside Out
Following the anthropomorphized emotions of a young girl whose life is thrown off balance after moving to a new town, Inside Out explores fundamental aspects of the human mind—the subconscious self, dreams, memory recall—in a way that feels novel and exciting. It’s brought to life in the brilliant colour and attention to detail typical of a Pixar production, with an added layer of formal experimentation that shows animation is truly capable of anything. Beneath the impeccable production is a poignant, complex message about the value of sadness as a means of empathizing, personified in a way that people of of all ages can understand.
1. Mad Max: Fury Road
Mad Max: Fury Road, the newest installment of Max Rockatansky’s survival story, leaves blockbuster tropes in the dirt. The dystopian/post-apocalyptic series hasn’t failed yet to satisfy an audience hungry for wild car chases and fight scenes in its characteristic steampunk style. In Fury Road, the franchise is amped up with the budget and CGI capabilities of every modern action blockbuster, but when accompanied by creator George Miller’s signature macabre style and culturally relevant themes, the film stands apart from others in the genre. Feminism and resource conservation subtly underscore the exaggerated explosions and car chases without getting lost in the noise of spitting engines. The film is almost bereft of character development, but that’s a virtue in this case, not a flaw. Fury Road is unapologetically simple: A return to the do-or-die morality of classic action-adventure films.